Core Values – Why are they important?

Let’s first define what values are.

Values are terms we use to explain how we measure achievement. These values determine our actions and beliefs. These chosen measurements lead to real-life behavior. Values apply to both employers and employees, and create behaviors in each.

Corporate Core Values

Creating or updating core values is a very popular organizational trend lately. These core values purport to define how the company and its employees behave.

These core values may include corporate-speak, such as:

· Sustainability (or an environmentally sustainable workplace)

· Social responsibility (Some initiative for the betterment of the community)

· Technological Innovation

· Optimize Towards Ideals

· Agility

· Do No Evil

· Growth and Learning

· Embrace and Drive Change

Then there are one-word values, such as:

· Integrity

· Accountability

· Empowerment

· Respect

· Fun

· Family

· Teamwork

Many companies (nonprofits and government included) expect their employees to memorize their core values, and some even tie performance metrics to their adherence. Think about that. If you have to memorize an imposed list of values – some of which aren’t even clear in relation to your job – how likely are you to be able to actually put them into action?

There is also a trend to ‘hire for values’ – perhaps by use of a pre-hire assessment or by carefully crafted questions during an interview. This could work if the company truly created an environment in which processes, procedures and rewards actually allow employees to behave in accordance with the stated values.

Companies say that they want these values to guide both corporate and employee decisions and actions. They want resonance between what is stated on the website and what the company and employees actually do.

Great! Except…well this can be tricky, since many companies come up with a list of what they say the core values are, but their own leadership/management team’s actions undermine employee adoption of them by rewarding something other than the stated core values; or their processes and procedures contradict their own value statements. So, really, it isn’t what the core values are necessarily; it could just as easily be what they wish the core values to be – as if by stating it, they can make it so – or as if the organization can do one thing but expect something different and better from the employees.

Example: A company has the core value of Operational Excellence. This value – performing each action with the highest quality and efficiency – is a great predictor of long-term success. Six Sigma, Lean Six Sigma and Total Quality Management have proven that. However, what if the company rewards short-term goals and quick wins over slower quality processes? Those short-term goals can have an adverse effect on adherence to processes that would lead to Operational Excellence. Since the reward is for short-term success, employees will likely not have the will to behave in accordance with this stated core value. Instead, the real core value that finds expression in action is Quick Profits lead to bonuses.

Another example: A company has the core value Embrace and Drive Change – yet puts roadblocks to innovative thinking and experimentation by reprimanding those that fail to hit targets on the first iteration of a new concept. Is it such a surprise that very few bright ideas are being proposed by employees? So, the real core value is Follow the Status Quo.

Another example: An organization has the core value of Growth and Learning. Great! Except that there is no provision for employees to leave their desks long enough to attend training or to attend coaching on professional development goals – much less provision in the budget for outside training or attendance at industry conventions. So the real core value is Profitability, not Growth and Learning.

Stating one core value and then reinforcing a different value through processes and rewards creates cognitive dissonance for employees, which is a great demotivator.

To make it even more complicated, a company can have a list of core values that are derided internally as nothing more than slogans.

For instance, a company lists Employee Engagement as a core value. However, managers with no understanding of the business are hired from outside the company while qualified employees with deep job knowledge are not even interviewed. When these same new managers come around touting Employee Engagement and arrogantly neglect to ask the employees what they think about x, y or z and then make unilateral decisions about things they don’t understand, the employees snicker to each other, “this is what employee engagement looks like?” and mock the system and culture that produce it.

Interestingly, but not surprisingly, companies that do create environments that matches their core values (like Zappos) are also consistently known as among the best places to work, as seen in such lists as Companies like Zappos know that they should look for employees whose personal values match their corporate values. What this means is that those employees don’t need to try to match their values – they just naturally already do. There is no cognitive dissonance to try to overcome – and employees convey this resonance by voting their approval on the Best Place to Work survey form. Those are the employees that ‘stick’. The ones whose values ultimately don’t really match are weeded out.

It is, therefore, imperative to choose employees wisely based on shared values – and for organizations to enact resonance between their stated core values and their actual culture, processes and reward systems.

Personal Core Values

So, what personal values do we hold that will determine our success?

Well that depends. Success is subjective and personal. We first have to ask, what is important to me?

Do I place value on external measures of success or on internal states of contentment and meaning, leading to a more purposeful and productive life? I will choose an employer (or to be an employer) based on this answer.

For instance:  Do I constantly compare myself to other people?

If so, that metric for achievement means that I have to be better, more popular, more monetarily wealthy, in a higher position and so-forth than someone else. If I am not, then I may become jealous, angry, feel under-appreciated, all of which can lead to envy and bitterness, and a very real chance of being unhappy. I will want to work in a place that is known for success and will reward me regardless of the means I employed to reach that end.

What if, in contrast to that, I measure achievement by how well I get along with others, how competent I am in my assigned job duties or projects, how well I communicate, how effective I am as a team member or leader, how I benefit my organization by being ethical, present, mindful and confident, yet empathetic? That may very well lead to a meaningful, contented life. I will want to work in a place that is known for being ethical, communicative, that values its employees as seen in its actual culture.

Which person would I like to work alongside every day? Which would I like to work for? Which would I like to be?

Another question: Do I value money over finding meaning?

If so, that metric may look like taking the highest-paying job I can find, regardless of the culture/value fit. I may also have no trouble stepping on and over the backs of others to get to where I want to go. I will constantly be in competition with my co-workers, neighbors, friends and, I daresay, my significant other. It’s all about the prestige, the car, the clothes, the fancy dining, the trips to Paris and New York, the adoration of my family and peers. The trouble with this is I may find it very empty and lonely when I look around and see only those who hang around for the free drinks.

On the other hand, what if I measure my achievement in working for a place that has an integrated work-life? This company may expect a lot from me, but also may offer an onsite gym, or a nap room, or flexible work hours, or on site child care to create the environment for integrated work-life (Family core value in action).

What if I measure achievement by working in a place that incorporates gender/cultural/ethnic diversity and same-sex benefits in its strategic human resources plan? (Inclusion core value in action).

What if I value starting my own business that benefits humanity in some way – promoting social justice or the elimination of poverty in minority children, for instance? (Social responsibility core value in action).

In choosing any of these paths and these types of values, I may very well find meaning and fulfillment in my everyday life, and probably feel a lot less bad stress too.

Which person would I like to work alongside? Which would I like to work for? Which would I choose to be?

This is the discussion we need to have about values. Organizations of all kinds should think hard about whether their stated core values and their corporate culture agree. Is the behavior that they reward in line with their stated core values? If not, this could be creating the dissonance that creates employee turnover and low morale. Employees should be sure they are working for a company where the core values agree with their own and are more than a slogan. This will set up both organizations and employees for success. This is why Core Values are important.

Does your company’s core values match what they actually reward or allow?  What do YOU think is the most important personal core value? Please share your comments below!


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Copyright Devorah Allen 2017. All rights reserved.

Author: delisheva

I am a lover of life, a writer, a thinker, and have been known to sing a little karaoke. I am also a Certified Professional of Learning and Performance (CPLP), Certified Professional in Talent Development, and am certified in Change Management and Six Sigma (Green Belt). I have an MBA from CSULB and am working on other certifications as well. In the meantime I love reading, blogging and walking and working on my ranch with my lovely and intelligent wife Callie.

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